It all started with the physical play.
Coming off a come-from-behind overtime win one night earlier, the Syracuse Crunch made a point to continue pounding the Portland Pirates.
It didn't take long -- less than 10 minutes -- for the results to show up on the scoreboard. Ondrej Palat's wrister beat Pirates goalie Chad Johnson, giving the Crunch an early lead.
"He's finishing checks and hammering guys, then he goes and scores the first goal for us," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler of Palat.
Palat and Tyler Johnson each provided a goal and an assist, leading the Crunch to a 4-2 win over the Pirates in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Sunday. Syracuse leads the best-of-five series 2-0, with the teams meeting again in Portland Thursday.
Game Two goes according to plan.
Syracuse Leads the Best-of-Five Series 2-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 20 shots for the victory. He looked much more solid tonight in net. The team needs him to play like that moving forward if they want to reach their ultimate goal.
SYR Palat, (1) (Johnson, Taormina), 9:33
SYR Brown, (1) (Angelidis, Wyman), 10:41
SYR Johnson, (2) (Palat), 0:49 (SH)
SYR Connolly, (1) (Sexton, Devos), 14:36
POR Gormley, (1) (Shinnimin, Johnson), 16:50
POR Johnson, (1) (Lessio, Gormley), 9:40
I continue to be extremely impressed by Palat. He's been the complete package through 2 games in this series. Just like last season, good things happen when the man has the puck. I was also impressed with Vladislav Namestnikov, who got a lot more ice time with Richard Panik getting kicked out after a secondary altercation. Portland tried targeting Namestnikov, and Vladdy rose to the challenge. He was feisty and he landed some good hits in the Third Period, to go along with his usual puckhandling and playmaking.
Game Three is Thursday in Portland. This is where Zettler's going to earn his big boy coaching pants. Portland's going to throw everything they have left at Syracuse in the First Period, and if Syracuse is complacent, bad things will happen. Playoffs are about attrition as much as anything, and if you have a chance to finish an opponent off, you do it. Anything that extends a series is another set of shifts where one of your key players can get hurt, so you have to finish the drill ASAP, and with Providence falling behind 2-0 in their series and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton up 2-0 in theirs, it's looking like a very good Pens team is lurking on the horizon. Syracuse wants to be healthy and rested for that potential opponent.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
After two potential game-winning goals were waved off in overtime, Richard Panik provided one that left little doubt.
The Syracuse Crunch forward accepted the pass from Ondrej Palat, spun to the left across the crease, and put the puck over Portland Pirates goalie Chad Johnson. No stranger to overtime goals, Panik was nonchalant about the play.
"Just a good move I guess," he said with a smile.
The goal capped a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win for the No. 3 Crunch over the No. 6 Portland Pirates in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday. Syracuse hosts Game 2 Sunday.
Syracuse withstands Portland's best punch.
Syracuse Leads the Best-of-Five Series 1-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 31 shots for the victory. 2 of those goals were softies on wrap-arounds that Desjardins needs to wipe out of his game quickly moving forward in these playoffs. He scares me. Point blank, the guy scares me.
POR Dziurzynski, (1) (Werek), 10:53
POR Rundblad, (1) (Gormley, Martinook), 17:16 (PP)
SYR Johnson, (1) (Panik, Palat), 6:37 (PP)
POR Brown, (1) (Lane, Miele), 8:23
SYR Barberio, (1) (Palat, Johnson), 13:32 (PP)
SYR Sexton, (1) (Sustr, Devos), 7:54
SYR Panik, (1) (Palat, Johnson), 6:36 (PP)
Richard Panik, Tyler Johnson, and Radko Gudas were the game's three stars. While not terribly visible at even strength, Panik showed great hands around the net on the PP setting up Johnson's goal and outwaiting Portland's netminder on the game winner. Panik attack, y'all.
That, I suspect, was Portland's best chance to seize upset momentum in this series. They got a couple of softies out of Desjardins and had the 2 goal lead on the road with a chance to steal home ice in a short 5-game series. The Crunch kept chipping away at it though and eventually wore out the Pirates, who now may have to go without Boris Valabik for a few games after a vicious elbowing major that led to Panik's winner. Syracuse now just has to make sure Brett Connolly, the recipient of that elbow, is healthy along with Johnson and Mark Barberio, each of whom also got banged up during the game. All three returned to action, so hopefully everything is going to be fine.
As quiet as a 3 assist night can be, I thought Ondrej Palat along with Johnson were Syracuse's best players tonight. Palat also drew three penalties out of Portland on top of his scoresheet production.
Game Two is tomorrow night. We'll see what Portland has in the tank.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.
The Prospect of the Week for April 25 is … Tyler Johnson, C, Syracuse (AHL – USA).
For the second year in a row, a prospect in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization won the AHL’s Most Valuable Player Award as Tyler Johnson of the Syracuse Crunch was given the honor last week. Johnson follows Cory Conacher, last year's winner, as the second Bolt prospect to win the award. Conacher has since moved on to the Ottawa Senators organization via trade.
The AHL has announced the schedule for the opening round, best-of-five series in the AHL playoffs. Syracuse, as the 3 seed, will be squaring off with the Portland Pirates, which are the 6 seed. The series will begin Saturday night in Syracuse and proceed under a 2-2-1 format as follows:
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Series “C” (best-of-5)
3-Syracuse Crunch vs. 6-Portland Pirates
Game 1 – Sat., Apr. 27 – Portland at Syracuse, 7:30
Game 2 – Sun., Apr. 28 – Portland at Syracuse, 7:30
Game 3 – Thurs., May 2 – Syracuse at Portland, 7:00
*Game 4 – Fri., May 3 – Syracuse at Portland, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sun., May 5 – Portland at Syracuse, 7:30
Syracuse will be required to submit their playoff roster to the AHL by 3 pm on Monday. Several players currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning may be on that roster including Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, Radko Gudas, Dana Tyrell, Keith Aulie, and/or Pierre-Cedric Labrie. The Lightning's final regular season game is on Saturday night against the Florida Panthers.
After the game, it was barely mentioned.
The regular season had gone from the present tense to the past.
Following a 5-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators at the Onondaga County War Memorial Sunday, the Syracuse Crunch immediately turned their attention to the postseason.
Syracuse, seeded No. 3 in the Eastern Conference as the East Division champions, finished the regular season 43-22-6-5, and hosts No. 6 Portland in the first round. The Crunch are home Saturday and Sunday, and the Pirates host Game 3 and 4 (if necessary) Thursday and Friday.
"We've got a few days here to prepare for them, a few days to rest, and we'll be ready to go on Saturday," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler.
Get away day at War Memorial.
Pat Nagle allowed 5 goals on 37 shots for the loss. That was Nagle's second appearance of his AHL career and his first decision as the Crunch threw out a B lineup and B effort with nothing much to play for in the last regular season game.
BNG Cowick, (16) (Grant, Schneider), 14:13
BNG Grant, (19) (Wideman), 1:56
BNG Ceci, (1) (Da Costa, Stone), 4:28
SYR Sustr, (2) (Barberio, Sexton), 6:47 (PP)
BNG Schneider, (17) (Cowick), 12:13
BNG Robinson, (2) (Cannone), 19:17
Dan Sexton was the game's third star.
With Portland getting thumped by Bridgeport 4-1, Syracuse's first round opponent is now set. The third seeded Crunch will draw the sixth seeded Pirates. To be honest, if I had to pick an opponent, Portland's not the scariest one on the board. When you look at their lineup, they have some nice defensemen but lack scoring depth up front and, above all, their goaltending doesn't really terrify you. This first round series may be the toughest one for Syracuse to get past, so I am fairly relieved they didn't draw a team like Wilkes-Barre/Scranton right away.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
JT Wyman doesn't classify himself as a shootout specialist.
But after the Syracuse surrendered a three-goal lead in the third period, the Crunch forward found himself up in the shootout with a chance to win the game and clinch the East Division title.
Wyman tried to focus on the task at hand. He had an idea of where he wanted to shoot, and did his best to read Worcester Sharks goalie Alex Stalock.
"I'm not really thinking about that when I'm going down there," Wyman said of the division implications.
Wyman made it to the top of the circles and wired a shot over Stalock's glove. The goal emptied the Crunch bench, as the team celebrated the 4-3 win and the franchise's second division title and first since 2001-02.
Syracuse wins the AHL East Division title... barely.
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 22 shots before stopping all 3 shooters he faced in the penalty shot session for the SOW.
SYR Connolly, (31) (Sexton, Barberio), 11:39
SYR Devos, (7) (Connolly, Namestnikov), 3:50
SYR Johnson, (37) (Brown, Cote), 5:40
WOR Gogol, (4) (Comrie, Demelo), 6:37
WOR Hayes, (3) (Comrie, Tarasov), 8:20
WOR Tarasov, (14) , 12:26
SYR- Sexton, Connolly, Wyman
My God, they made that so much harder than it needed to be. Syracuse needed the win tonight to nail down the division title with Binghamton defeating Hershey, and they looked in good shape holding a 3-0 lead heading into the final frame against a non-playoff team. And then the bottom fell out. Thank goodness they were able to get the extra point in the skills gimmick, because if they didn't Binghamton coming to town tomorrow could've stole the division title with a regulation win.
Now tomorrow's game looks to be rather meaningless, and I wouldn't be surprised if certain key players like Mark Barberio, Connolly, and Johnson find most of their ice time given to younger players for precautionary reasons.
Box score from TheAHL.com.